Zelonka, Cratsenberg are VND football players of the year

| Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, 11:30 p.m.

Offensive Player of the Year

Jesse Zelonka, Apollo-Ridge

Senior, QB

6-foot, 165 pounds

His first name isn't Johnny, but Apollo-Ridge football fans might know him as “Jesse Football.”

Senior quarterback Jesse Zelonka was the conductor of the big-play show this season for the Vikings, who returned to the WPIAL playoffs and proved they could play with Class A's best.

The team went 8-3 and the trio of losses were to three semifinal teams, including the eventual champion, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, by one point, 22-21.

Zelonka was the most productive dual-threat signal-caller in the Alle-Kiski Valley, and his accomplishments have earned him Valley News Dispatch Offensive Player of the Year honors.

Zelonka completed 55 percent of his passes and threw for 1,613 yards with 25 touchdowns and only one interception, which came in the second half of the team's final game. He also rushed for a team-best 779 yards and six scores.

Also considered for the award were Kittanning's Nick Bowers and Bradon Toy, Highlands' Elijah Jackson and Apollo-Ridge's Tre Tipton.

Did you expect to have as much success running the ball as you did throwing it this season?

No, not at all. I definitely surprised myself.

How much freedom did you have in the offense and how much did you improvise?

I had a lot more freedom than I showed. Coach (John) Skiba game me the option to call audibles as I saw them.

What's the most memorable play you made this season?

I'd have to say my 92-yard run against Riverview.

What was the Apollo-Ridge Play of the Year?

I think it was actually the whole first drive of the North Catholic game. Even thought it was a loss. We came out and had three consecutive 10-plus-yard runs, then got a touchdown through the air. They definitely weren't expecting it.

How much easier did playing with receivers like Tre Tipton and Alex Smith make your job?

It made it a lot easier because I knew I could anticipate the throw and have full faith in my boys to find the ball and make a play.

What was the difference in the loss to Sto-Rox in the quarterfinals?

It wasn't just another loss. It was our biggest loss that really hit us seniors because we knew that was our last game.

What do you want most for Christmas?

I wanted North Catholic to win states. They deserve it and are representing the Eastern Conference very well.

Who is going to win the Super Bowl?

Denver Broncos.

Who's your favorite all-time football player?

Johhny Manziel. That's my dude. I have looked up to him since he started his career.

Who is your favorite person to follow on Twitter?

WPIAL Insider.

Who would play you in a movie?

Zac Efron.

Do you have any hidden talents?

I can make some bomb Ramen noodles.

What's something most people don't know about you?

I'm a very, very, very sensitive guy.

What is your favorite thing to do off the football field?

Watch football and spend time with the friends, girlfriend and family.

What's the best advice you ever got from coach John Skiba?

When he gave the seniors a speech. He said just go out there, have fun and leave it all out on the field.

What will fans remember most about you?

Hopefully my smile on and off the field. I always stayed smiling no matter what.

defensive Player of the Year

Allan Cratsenberg, Highlands

Senior, LB, 6-foot-3, 225 pounds

His coach calls him “Bull” because he runs over ball-carriers who might otherwise think they can gain positive yardage against the imposing linebacker from Highlands.

From the first day he put on pads and was given the green light to go, Allan Cratsenberg saw red. The hard-hitting senior helped Highlands pull together after an adversity-filled season to make a run to the WPIAL playoffs.

For his efforts, Cratsenberg is the Valley News Dispatch Defensive Player of the Year.

He also won the award as a sophomore.

Kiski Area's Shane Kuhn also was considered.

Cratsenberg, who has drawn Division I attention but continues to search for a place to play in college, piled up a team-high 96 tackles and 11 sacks, while also intercepting two passes.

What goes through your mind as you're about to deliver a hit?

To not let the ball-carrier get a yard.

What made Highlands' linebackers such an effective group?

Our linebackers have a great nose for the ball and will hit you.

What's the most memorable play you made this season?

My run against New Castle when I ran the safety over for a touchdown.

What was the Highlands' Play of the Year?

Also against New Castle when (quarterback) Blake Leri threw the ball up to Jordan Lineburg and it got tipped and Jordan ran it in for a touchdown.

How much fun did you have on offense running the wildcat, or is it, “Wild-Crat”?

I like the Wild-Crat better. But it was a lot of fun; we had a great line and I love getting chances to make big plays.

What was the difference in the loss to Thomas Jefferson in the quarterfinals?

The difference was that we did not capitalize when we needed to most.

What do you want most for Christmas?

Definitely a car.

Who is going to win the Super Bowl?

The Steelers, hands down.

Who's your favorite all-time football player?

Ray Lewis.

Who is your favorite person to follow on Twitter?

Regis Uhric. He always cracks me up when I get onto Twitter.

Who would play you in a movie?

Denzel Washington, because every movie he's in is great.

Do you have any hidden talents?

I'm very good at ping pong.

What's something most people don't know about you?

My mother raised me by herself my entire life.

What's the best advice you ever got from coach Sam Albert?

I honestly cannot pick one thing because he gives me advice every single day. How to not only become a better football player but also to become a better man.

If you could go back and change one thing about this season (other than winning a championship), what would it be?

To play Knoch again and win the conference title.

What will fans remember most about you?

Not only me but my entire team that we will hit you every play until the ref blows that whistle.

Do you and the team feel you played your best for your former teammates, the late Ryan Richards? What would he think about the team's run?

Our entire team dedicated this year to Ryan, and he would be very happy about how the season went.

Valley News Dispatch all-stars

Nick Bowers

Kittanning, Jr., 6-4/220, WR/LB

All-Allegheny Conference first-teamer on offense and defense caught 54 passes for 856 yards and 16 TDs.

Duane Brown

Apollo-Ridge, Fr., 5-9/150, RB/DB

All-Eastern Conference first-team selection had five interceptions, including three that went for touchdowns.

Joe Brown

Riverview, Sr., 5-10/160 OL/DL

Named Class A Eastern Conference Co-Lineman of the Year.

Joey Brungo

Kiski Area, Sr., 6- 2190, WR/DB

All Quad-East Conference first-team pick had 37 catches for 423 yards and five TDs and four INTs.

Marcus Davenport

Valley, Sr., 6- 2175, OL/DL

Made All-Allegheny Conference first team as defensive lineman.

Chad Garnett

Fox Chapel, Sr., 5- 9175, RB/DB

Named to All-Quad North Conference first team after catching 27 passes for 295 yards.

Nigel Garnett

Fox Chapel, Sr., 5-9/180, RB/DB

All-Quad North Conference first-teamer rushed for 725 yards and seven touchdowns and had four INTs.

Terrell Fields

Valley, Sr., 5-1 1180, OL/DL

Named Class-AA Allegheny Conference Lineman of the Year.

Elijah Jackson

Highlands, Jr., 5-7/140, RB/DB

All-Greater Allegheny Conference first-team pick rushed for A-K best 1,287 yards and 10 TDs.

D'Aundre Johnson

Valley, So., 5- 9135, WR/DB

Big-play wide receiver and heavy hitter was named to All-Allegheny Conference second team as returner.

Shane Kuhn

Kiski Area, Sr., 6-4/230 TE/LB

All-Quad East Conference first-teamer and Youngstown State recruit had team-high 77 tackles.

Adam Lock

Springdale, Jr., 6-2/200, TE/DE

Named to Class A Eastern Conference first team as a tight end.

Ty Matthews

Valley, Sr., 6-2/220, QB/LB

Named to Class AA Allegheny Conference first team as a linebacker, second team as quarterback.

Cody Milsom

Knoch, Jr., 5- 9170, RB/LB

Rushed for team-best 854 yards and nine touchdowns and was All-Greater Allegheny Conference honorable mention.

Adam Mitcheson

Kiski Area, Sr., 6- 2195, PK

All-Quad East Conference first-teamer and Buffalo recruit, kicked 11 FGs and scored team-high 56 points.

Connor Shinsky

Knoch, Sr., 6-5/260, OL/DL

All-Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference first-team selection and Divison I prospect. Alex Smith

Apollo-Ridge, Jr., 6- 1165, WR/DB

Caught 27 receptions for 578 yards and eight touchdowns and made All-Eastern Conference second team.

Ryan Sowol

Burrell, Jr., 6-0/185, RB/LB

First-team All-Allegheny Conference pick rushed for 1,150 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Tre Tipton

Apollo-Ridge, Jr., 6- 1165, WR/DB

All-Eastern Conference first-teamer and all-state selection (DB) caught 44 passes for 697 yards and 14 touchdowns and had five interceptions.

Braydon Toy

Kittanning, Jr., 5-6/140, QB/DB

All-Allegheny Conference first-team pick passed for 1,639 yards and 20 TDs and rushed for 859 yards and nine scores.

Sam Whalen

Knoch, Jr., 5- 7155, OL/DL

Named to All-Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference first team.

Andrew Yohe

Kiski Area, Sr., 6-3/295, OL/DL

All-Quad East Conference first-teamer has commited to play at Dartmouth.

Second-team all-stars

Player, school Class Ht./Wt. Pos.

Keir Barber, Riverview Jr. 6-0/180 RB/LB

David Brown, Fox Chapel Jr. 6-2/220 TE/LB

Lincoln Clayton, Kiski Area So. 6-0/190 RB/LB

Zane Dudek, Kittanning Fr. 5- 9160 RB/LB

Justice Evans, Kiski Area Fr. 5-6/160 RB/LB

Ben Gemballa, Apollo-Ridge Sr. 5-1 1185 RB/LB

Tyson Hill, Valley So. 6-0/150 WR/DB

Tyler Horwatt, Burrell Sr. 6- 1230 OL/DL

Demetrius Houser, Valley Sr. 6-2/200 RB/LB

Jim Larrimer, Knoch Sr. 6- 4190 WR/DB

Derrick Mazur, Highlands Sr. 5-8/185 RB/LB

Zach Mazur, Highlands Sr. 5-10/200 RB/LB

Brandon Mitchell, Fox Chapel Sr. 6-6/215 WR/DB

Josh Plocki, Deer Lakes Sr. 6-0/165 QB

Logan Robb, Kittanning Jr. 6- 1235 OL/DL

Chantz Schrecengost, Ford City Sr. 6- 1145 RB/LB

Alex Sipolino, Leechburg Sr. 6-3/155 QB/DB

Hunter Stiehler, Springdale Sr. 5-10/225 OL/DL

Jake Tecak, Plum So. 6-5/350 OL/DL

Logan Thimons, Freeport So. 6- 2190 OL/DL

Billy Urso, Fox Chapel Jr. 5-10/185 QB

Lonny Wells, Apollo-Ridge Sr. 5- 10190 RB/LB

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